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Authors: Jennifer Hayward

Marrying Her Royal Enemy

BOOK: Marrying Her Royal Enemy
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The man she loves to hate…

Most women would kill to be draped in ivory lace and walking up the aisle toward King Kostas Laskos. Stella Constantinides isn't most women. But for peace in her kingdom, she's agreed to marry the man she once bared her heart to with disastrous effect.

The feisty princess refuses to be his pawn, yet one night in their marriage bed proves that Stella will never be immune to her husband's charms. Soon Stella begins to see a truth behind the sins of their past…and she finds herself doing what she swore she'd never do—fall for her husband!

 

An air of incredulity surrounded Stella. ‘Am I supposed to lay my happiness down on the altar as I’ve done everything else? Marry a man I can’t stand for the sake of duty?’

‘You don’t hate me, Stella. You know that’s a lie. And it wouldn’t be like that,’ Kostas said. ‘You told me once your dream was to become a human rights lawyer, to effect widespread change. Becoming my Queen would allow you to do that. You would be altering the course of history. Bringing happiness to a people who have suffered enough. Can you really tell me that’s not worth it?’

Her lips pursed. ‘Pulling out your trump card, Kostas? Now I
know
you’re desperate.’

‘We both know that isn’t my trump card. We’ve proved we could be very good together.
More
than good.’

Jennifer Hayward invites you into a world of …

Kingdoms & Crowns

Young royals in reckless pursuit of passion!

When a centuries-old battle between the kingdoms of Akathinia and Carnelia is reignited the nation’s young royals find themselves on the brink of war. But their kingdoms aren’t the only thing at stake …

Soon these young monarchs are facing an unexpected royal baby, the appearance of a lost princess and an alliance with the enemy.

Can love conquer all? Find out where it all started in:

King Nikandros and Sofía Ramirez’s story
Carrying the King’s Pride

Princess Aleksandra and Aristos Nicolades’s story
Claiming the Royal Innocent

Available now!

JENNIFER HAYWARD
Marrying Her Royal Enemy

Jennifer Hayward
has been a fan of romance since filching her sister’s novels to escape her teenage angst. Her career in journalism and PR—including years of working alongside powerful, charismatic CEOs and traveling the world—has provided her with perfect fodder for the fast-paced, sexy stories she likes to write, always with a touch of humor. A native of Canada’s East Coast, Jennifer lives in Toronto with her Viking husband and young Viking-in-training.

Books by Jennifer Hayward

Harlequin Presents

Reunited for the Billionaire’s Legacy

Tempted by Her Billionaire Boss

The Italian’s Deal for I Do
Society Wedding Secret
The Magnate’s Manifesto
Changing Constantinou’s Game

Kingdoms & Crowns

Claiming the Royal Innocent
Carrying the King’s Pride

The Delicious De Campos

The Divorce Party
An Exquisite Challenge
The Truth About De Campo

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

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A special thanks to Captain Steve Krotow, USN (ret.), for his insight into naval aviation. You were so helpful and fascinating! Now I really want to land on a carrier someday.

And to my brother Andrew for being the most awesome brainstorm partner.

CHAPTER ONE

S
O
THIS
WAS
what freedom tasted like.

Princess Styliani Constantinides, or Stella, as she had been known since birth, lifted an exotic rum-based cocktail to her lips and took a sip, the contrasting bitter and sweet flavors of the spirits lingering on her tongue before blazing a fiery path down to her stomach, where they imbued an intense feeling of well-being.

The perfect combination for this particular moment as she sat in her friend Jessie’s tiny, local bar on the west coast of Barbados, halfway around the world from her home in Akathinia, contemplating her future.

Sweet, given the burnout she’d been suffering from after the hundred-plus public appearances she’d done last year, in addition to her work chairing the boards of two international youth agencies.
Bitter
because her brother Nik had accused her of running away from the issue at hand.

As if it had been just yesterday she’d ditched her Swiss finishing school to spend a month in Paris when she’d thought the stifling formality of her studies might suck the very life out of her. As if every sacrifice she’d made since then had meant nothing...

“How’s that?”

The testosterone-laden, dreadlocked bartender rested his forearms on the gray-veined marble bar and cocked a thick, dark brow at her.

“On the nose.” The smile she gave him was the first real one she’d managed in months. He offered a thumbs-up in return, then moved on to serve another customer.

Relaxing back in her stool, she cradled the tulip-shaped glass in her hands and studied the fiery jewel tones of the cocktail glowing in the fairy lights of the beachside bar. She deigned to disagree with her brother, the king. She was not, in fact, running, so much as drawing a line in the sand. She may have given up her childhood dream for her country and sacrificed the freedom that was like oxygen to her, but her brother’s latest request was over the line. Untenable. Out of the question.

She wouldn’t do it.

Her breath left her in a long, cathartic exhale. Pulling in another lungful of the salty ocean air, she felt her limbs loosen, the band of tension encircling her skull ease, the tightness in her chest unwind. The release of pressure unshackled something inside of her that had been knotted and twisted for weeks.

When was the last time she’d felt she could breathe? As if the forces conspiring to turn her life upside down were not in control, but
she
was. As if the insanity that had driven her to this Caribbean paradise had simply been a vexing nightmare that an airplane ticket purchased under an assumed name and a lifetime of skill in eluding her bodyguards could fix.

A smile curved her lips. It had been a compelling game. Almost as fun as the ones she and Nik had used to play on the palace staff. Convincing Darius, her ex–special ops bodyguard, to let her leave the palace alone and dropping an arch hint she was headed for a secret tryst, when, in fact, a man was the last thing she wanted in her life, had summoned a blush to the hardened serviceman’s cheeks and an agreement to “overlook” her departure from the palace. Boarding a commercial flight in a Harvard T-shirt and sunglasses and making the getaway from the pink-sanded Mediterranean island paradise she called home had been even easier.

The only rain on her very slick parade had been the text from Nik. She’d sent him one to say she was fine, that she needed time to think. His blunt, admonishing reply had made her turn off her phone.

Her brother could, of course, find her if he wanted to. But she knew he wouldn’t. Once her twin royal rebel, Nik knew the price it had cost her to clip her wings. He himself had made the ultimate sacrifice in taking their brother Athamos’s place as king, giving up the life he’d loved in New York when Athamos had been killed in a tragic car accident that had rocked Akathinia. He would allow her this time to find her head,
herself
.
If
she even knew who she was anymore.

“Need a menu?” The bartender waved one at her.

“Please.” There were no paparazzi lying in wait to chase her from the bar, no Darius watching her with eagle-eyed precision from ten feet away, nor did anyone have a clue who she was in jeans, a T-shirt and sunglasses. Since Jessie wouldn’t be free until the dinner rush was over, she might as well eat and enjoy the superb sunset from one of the patio tables.

“I hear the calamari is spectacular.”

The low, textured voice came from her right, delivered by the male who slid onto the stool beside her. She froze, breath jamming in her throat. The hairs on the back of her neck rose to attention, a sense of unreality washing over her.
It couldn’t be.
Except that voice carrying a Carnelian accent, infused with a Western inflection, that richly flavored, deeply masculine tone, could belong to only one man.

Noooo.
Every muscle in her body tensed in rejection, her heart shutting down in coordination with her breathing as the earthy, sensual scent of him slammed into her senses. Her toes curled in her shoes, ordering—
begging
—her to run. But she had never been, nor would she ever be, a coward, so she looked up at the king of Carnelia instead.

Tall and muscular, he dwarfed the stool he sat on, as if he went on forever, the sheer brawn of him riveting;
intimidating
. But what was perhaps more hazardous to a woman’s health was how all that sheer masculine power was cloaked with a civilized veneer that had always set him apart from his savage of a father. That had once made her believe he was different.

Kostas Laskos lifted a hand to capture the bartender’s attention, an unnecessary action when everyone in the bar was staring at him. The women because his hawkish, striking face, set off by his short-cropped black hair, was just that arresting. The men because anyone that dangerous was to be inspected and sized up immediately.

“The oldest Mount Gay you have,” the king requested.

Diavole.
Her stomach retracted in a visceral reaction only this man had ever been able to elicit. Stunning, as he had been the last time she’d seen him, in ceremonial uniform at the Independence Day ball in Akathinia, tonight in jeans and a shirt rolled up at the elbows, he was compelling in a way the sunset staining the sky outside was—an utterly unavoidable, spectacularly beautiful product of nature.

His long, powerful fingers claimed her attention as he lowered them to his side. He had lethal hands—ones that could snap a man’s neck as easily as they had crushed her eighteen-year-old heart. Hands that purportedly seduced so skillfully that women lined up for him to do it, but she wouldn’t know because he had saved his cruelest rejection for her.

Her teeth sank into her lower lip, the effects of him reverberating through her. He had kissed her with that beautiful, sensual mouth of his, the only soft part of Kostas that existed, to comfort her after her dreams had come crashing down around her. He had stripped her of her innocent defenses, shown her what true fire could look like, then walked away, making a mockery of her teenage idolization.

She
hated
him.

He was watching her, analyzing her every reaction to him in that deadly way of his. She forced herself to speak past the blood pounding in her ears. “Shouldn’t you be home ruling over that band of ruffians you inherited, or did your jet run out of fuel?”

A corner of his mouth lifted. “You know why I’m here.”

She set down her glass with a jerky movement, liquid sloshing precariously close to the sides. “Well, you can refuel and be on your way. I gave Nik my answer. I wouldn’t marry you if you came with a dowry of a hundred billion euros.”

“I think you have that the wrong way around.”

“I think I don’t. I’m the prize in this scenario, am I not? Or you wouldn’t have flown halfway around the world to harass me.”

“I wouldn’t have had to if you’d given me the time I’d requested.”

“I refused what was on offer.”

His whiskey-soaked gaze glittered. “How can you know what you don’t want when you don’t even know what’s on offer?”

She pressed her fingers against her mouth. “Let’s see...
Hmm.
A barbarian for a husband, living in the enemy’s lair, a union with a man who didn’t even have the guts to try to stop his father when he tried to take Akathinia? No,
thank
you.”

His jaw tightened. “Watch yourself, Stella. You don’t have all the facts.”

“It’s a year and a half too late. I no longer care.” She pushed away from the bar and slid off the stool. “Go home, Kostas.”

“Sit down.”
The words left his mouth with the fine edge of a scythe. “Do me the courtesy of hearing me out. The time for tantrums is long past.”

Customers turned to stare. Jessie, who was seating a table, looked over, eyes widening as she took in the man beside her. Stella waved her off and sat down because she didn’t want to cause a scene and blow her cover.
Not
because of the inherent command in the king’s voice.

Kostas pinned his gaze on her. “Have dinner with me. Listen to what I have to say. I promise if you do, I will leave and accept whatever decision you make.”

Accept whatever decision she made?
Had he always been this arrogant? How could she once have thought herself so blindingly in love with him she’d willingly made a complete fool of herself over him?

Heat smoked through her, singeing her skin.
“Kala,”
she drawled in her most agreeable voice. “You’re right. This conversation is long overdue. Why don’t you order us a good bottle of Bordeaux, find a table, and we’ll discuss it over dinner like two civilized adults?”

She slid off the stool and sashayed toward the washrooms.

* * *

Kostas knew the moment Stella turned on her heel that she wasn’t coming back. He knew
her
. Had known her since childhood, when the royal families of Akathinia and Carnelia had crossed paths at official celebrations, at the dozens of royal occasions that marked the season in the Mediterranean. His family had had a measure of respectability then, as his father’s tendency toward a dictatorial rule had been less pronounced.

He had watched Stella grow from an undeniably attractive teenager into a spirited, often recalcitrant young woman who spent so much of her time flaunting the rules he wasn’t sure she could see past her insurgency. Except of late. The past few years had seen the Akathinian princess turn herself into a respected global philanthropist, her rebellious edge muted if not entirely eliminated.

And for that, he was glad. It was her will he had always respected, found himself irresistibly drawn to. Her strength of character. It was a quality he required in a wife, a woman who could accomplish extraordinary things with him—change the very fabric of a nation that had suffered greatly. Few would have the courage to take on the challenge he was about to offer her. Stella had been born with it.

He caught the proprietor’s attention, secured a private table outside on the edge of the patio, then returned inside to lean against the wall opposite the washrooms, arms crossed over his chest. When Stella emerged and headed directly for the exit, he cleared his throat.

“I thought you might need help finding the table,” he offered in as benign a tone as she had drawn him in with. “Château Margaux okay?”

Her eyes widened, then narrowed, a series of emotions flashing across her arresting face as she formulated an alternate game plan. “Lovely,” she announced, swishing past him into the restaurant.

He followed, a surge of amusement filling him as he contemplated her better-than-average backside, set off to perfection in formfitting blue jeans. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt alive, awake to the zest of a life he’d lost his taste for. It figured Stella would be the one to snap him out of it.

Guiding her to the table on the patio with his fingertips at her elbow, he held her chair out for her. She sat down, allowing him to push in the chair. He deliberately let his fingers brush her shoulders as he lifted his hands away, eliciting a visible flinch from the princess.
A test.
He recorded it with satisfaction. She wished it to be hate, but he knew it was anything but.

He fixed his attention on the woman sitting across from him while he waited for their server to uncork the impressive bottle of Bordeaux. Devoid of makeup, with her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, the bold, strong lines of her face were a challenge in themselves. Not classically beautiful, but unforgettable when paired with her ice-blue eyes and blond hair.

Where every other woman had eventually faded to a blurry replication of the last, Stella had remained unique. The one he couldn’t group with all the rest. The one his twenty-three-year-old self had somehow resisted with an impressive display of self-control.
Just.

The waiter left the wine to breathe. Kostas laced his fingers together on the table and addressed the land mine that lay between them. “I’m sorry about Athamos. I know how much you loved him. I understand the grief you and your family must be going through.”

“Do you?”
She lifted her chin, fixing those spectacular blue eyes on him. “I don’t think you could possibly understand the grief we feel because you are alive, Kostas, and Athamos is dead.”

He drew in a breath at the direct hit. He had expected it. Deserved it. Had spent every waking moment since the night Athamos had died wishing he could turn back time. Wishing he could bring Stella’s brother, the former crown prince of Akathinia, back to his family. But he couldn’t. The events of that night would always be a waking nightmare for him. A reminder of his flaws. All he could do was forgive himself for his mistakes and attempt to move on before he destroyed himself, too. With a country resting its hopes on him, that wasn’t an option.

He held her cold, bitter gaze. “He was a friend as much as a rival, you know that. Our relationship was complex. I need to take responsibility for what happened that night, but both Athamos and I agreed to that race. We both made bad decisions.”

BOOK: Marrying Her Royal Enemy
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